1861 - The first colour photograph, as opposed to a painted black and white photo, was created by James Clerk Maxwell and Thomas Sutton

On May 17, 1861, Scottish physicist Sir James Clerk Maxwell presented the very first colour photograph at the Royal Institution. The photograph showed a tartan ribbon and was made by Thomas Sutton according to the three-colour method proposed by Maxwell as early as 1855. The process involved photographing the ribbon three times, each time with a different colour filter (red, green, or blue-violet) over the lens. The three photographs were developed, printed on glass, then projected onto a screen with three different projectors, each equipped with the same colour filter used to photograph it. When superimposed on the screen, the three images formed a full-colour image. During his lecture, which was about physics and physiology, not photography, Maxwell commented on the inadequacy of the results and the need for a photographic material more sensitive to red and green light.

Together with his business partner, the French photographer Louis Blanquart Evrard, Thomas Sutton ran a successful photography studio in Jersey from 1847 until it was destroyed by fire in 1854.  Sutton himself published the first photographic publication on the island, and also (with the photography lecturer George Dawson) The Dictionary of Photography as well as a manual on the calotype process that was would remain popular through ten editions.

The same year as he made the first permanent colour photograph, he also invented the single lens reflex camera, and later developed the first panoramic camera with a wide angle lens.

The National Science and Media Museum (UK) has an informative blog on the history of colour photography here.

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